France planning new European military crisis force outside EU

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PARIS/BERLIN (Reuters) — The French government will in June launch a deployable European military crisis force outside of existing European Union efforts, French Defense Ministry sources said on Wednesday.

Paris has been in touch with a dozen countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Britain and Denmark, about the initiative, holding a working group to outline the idea in March.

The idea aims to bring together European countries with a military capacity and political desire to collaborate on planning, carry out joint analyses of emerging crises and to react to them quickly.

“It would not be within the European Union and would allow countries outside it, like Britain, to be part of it,” said one source.

French President Emmanuel Macron broadly outlined the idea to have a rapid European intervention force by the end of the decade during a landmark speech on Europe last September.

While some EU tactical interventional groups exist in principle, so far they have never been used.

The sources declined to name the countries that would be at a launch ceremony in Paris in June, but said it did not mean countries could not join at a later stage.

Germany, which has a historical resistance to military missions that included the use of force, in March appeared to back the plan given the need for a better European cooperation to crises.

However, it has previously emphasized the force should be folded into the new Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) defense pact being set up between EU governments. French officials insist the new initiative will not cannibalize PESCO.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly was to discuss the project with her German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday in Paris.

“It’s creating a smaller group of countries that have common analysis and procedures,” said a second French defense source. “It would plug in the different military planning and operations centers,” said one source.

The source said its aim was to try to anticipate future crises, be it military conflicts or humanitarian such as the recent storms that hit the Caribbean, and avoid situations whereby one country would be forced to intervene alone, as France did in Central African Republic and Mali.

The project is not on a list of 17 joint projects initiatives, including a European armored infantry vehicle, agreed by the founding PESCO members.